So I wandered into a Twitter conversation the other day with our noble Twitter friend, @Adam807, about the impending demise of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. His basic position: That the show accomplished something because it had some keepable moments and a respectable run, and that it made a lot of kids happy along the way. There was a lot of other stuff in there, too, including the stellar moment wherein I lowballed the capitalization costs of the show by a solid $50 million dollars — perhaps because my brain is unable to process how any Broadway show — flying or no flying — could cost that much goddamn money.
But this got me thinking about a pretty basic thing: How I just don’t believe that a Broadway show has value simply because it exists. I really don’t. I don’t believe that shows fundamentally “deserve” to stay open. I don’t believe that every moment of theater that happens on Broadway is a perfect flower of entertainment history that struggles for precious existence in a toxic world of DirectTV, Sports Center, and bounce houses. I don’t believe this any more than I believe that stupid TV shows should continue to air, or that I’m not allowed to laugh my face off at Plato’s School in the Musee d’Orsay, or that the crappy Italian restaurant on my block should continue to sit there empty on Friday nights. Unsuccessful stuff dies. Fin.
And Broadway is a business, baby, one that makes a shitton of money. And to me, the math with Spider-Man is blindingly simple, and accessible even to my poor brain, which still struggles to split the check at Chelsea Grill on a Wednesday night: The show is a failure. It is a failure on every possible front.
There are only three ways for a show to be successful on Broadway. It can be a financial success, an artistic success, or both. It cannot be successful by other paremeters, say, in pie making or swimming. Those things do not exist in the universe of Broadway, just like Hermione hooking up with Harry does not exist in the universe of Harry Potter. It is not real, except in your mind and in your fun, but ultimately strictly unofficial fanfiction.
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is not a success by any parameter that matters in the universe of Broadway. None. It is, by all accounts, a complete financial disaster, and it sucked — a double whammy that means, in very simple terms, that it sucks at everything. It will be remembered not for its flying tricks (they were cool) or its lovely cast (Reeve Carney!) or its ambition (Julie Taymor — high five, my sister; stay strong) or for the limited scads of sweet young children that it delighted. It will be remembered as the biggest fucking Broadway disaster of the century wherein people nearly died, everyone of import got sued or fired, and the show’s much-touted magic tricks didn’t consistently work three years into its run.
That’s not good, you guys.
And now that Spidey is going home — to Broadway Heaven, otherwise known as Las Vegas — the show still doesn’t have a clean shot at new success. Every subsequent production, after all, will incur its own capitalization costs, on top of the incredible debt that’s already come from its Broadway run. My guess? That won’t be cheap. The flying tricks alone undoubtedly require an intense level of customization, depending on the space. So Spider-Man is far from an an easy transfer, and it is many (many) years from financial success.
Can a failing business turn around? Certainly. But there’s very little at this point I’m guessing, that can fix lyrics like, “DNA is the way.” Or make the show not about… spiders. That part of Spider-Man‘s perfect storm of failure — that the show is mind-numbingly bad — will live on and on, in Vegas and in countries around the world. But hey, maybe that’ll work to its benefit. Maybe Arachne makes more sense in German or Mandarin…